Golf: A talent coming of age: Ken Jones watches Olazabal conjure a round to savour

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The Independent Online
THE burning question today is: will Jose-Maria Olazabal become the best golfer of his generation?

Victory in the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth says yes. The manner of it, a closing round of 65, six birdies and an eagle to finish 17- under par, says yes again.

This was more than golf of the highest order proving Olazabal to be something of an explorer, inventive and adventurous, the natural successor to his great compatriot, Seve Ballesteros.

It confirmed the 28-year- old Spaniard's coming of age in the Masters last month, his first major, and perhaps at last the acceptance of a philosophy that was enunciated by a poet who never laid hands on a club.

When Rudyard Kipling scripted that stuff about success and failure being twin imposters he could have had in mind every tour player who has found the trees or missed from three feet.

Some get to understand it, others don't. For a long time it did not appear to register with Olabazal. After losing the 1991 Masters by a shot to Ian Woosnam the burning question was could he handle failure? Two years of misery said, no. He was less a boy genius, more a tormented soul. People worried about him, especially Ballesteros who has been down the agony road. 'You are the best in the world,' Olazabal's hero said. 'But you are the only one who can prove it.'

To watch Olazabal yesterday was to understand what confidence can do for a man, what winning the Masters did for Olazabal. On the first tee he was three shots adrift of the tournament leader, Ernie Els who was greatly fancied to hang on.

If Olazabal's rabbit drive at the 15th, hooked low left had not hit a spectator it would probably have been all over.

But now for his imagination, a touch of pure genius. Taking a two iron, firing through a gulley of spectators, cutting the ball left to right, he sent it 216 yards pin high to 20 feet. One putt, birdie.

The gods were with Olazabal and so was the gallery. This was the the great escapologist, Ballesteros all over again. 'Go on Ollie,' they shouted.

Fearlessly drawing his tee shot at the 17th, flirting with the trees and the slope, Olazabal found the perfect position. Now it was there for him. Three from there, another birdie.

Watching Olazabal coming down the last you could imagine that a scowl has never crossed his face. A birdie again leaving Els in need of a miracle.

Only one shot separated them at the end but you wouldn't have known it. Olazabal had played that sort of golf.